Top 100 World Cup Moments (From the Aussie P.O.V.): 25-Spain Finally Break Their Duck (2010)

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In 2008 at the European Championships in Austria and Switzerland, the Spanish national team had finally gone from the perennial underachievers with a list of laughable failures, to one of the most awe inspiring teams seen. Their ‘tikki-takka’ short passing style was now being implemented to full effect by a golden generation of players, and every other team was being laid to waste. Even despite the retirement of coach Luis Aragones, the Spanish were warm favourites along with Brazil for the 2010 tournament and eased their way through the tournament despite a first up loss to the Swiss in Durban and a dicey game with Paraguay in the quarter finals.

Their opponents in the final would be a surprising Dutch outfit built around the talents of the midfielder Wesley Sneijder who was coming off a wonderful season for Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan who had won fabled the treble. The Dutch had dominated their group and then defeated Slovakia easily before they caused a massive upset in the quarter finals by knocking out the undisciplined Brazilians with Sneijder and Dirk Kuyt the architects. In the semi-finals they had outlasted another surprise packet in Uruguay to make their third World Cup final. Third time lucky? Bert Van Marwijk and his side hoped so.

This final would be the first time the two countries had ever played each other in a major tournament with this game also only the fifth time there had been a final between two sides that had not won the World Cup before. Nelson Mandela finally emerged from the tragic loss of his great-granddaughter 24 hours before the start of the tournament that meant he had been a recluse in the past four weeks; but he managed to get on a motorized cart, brave the cold and give a hello to the massive crowd at Soccer City Stadium.

This would be the last time Nelson Mandela would ever appear in public.

Englishman Howard Webb would referee the game in what was also his biggest moment on the biggest stage, with both sides going with the latest fad with formations..the 4-2-3-1. The Dutch had come into the final playing inventive and entertaining football while the Spanish had relied upon a heap of 1-0 results in the latter stages of the tournament. From the kick-off though it was the Dutch who were the ones who weren’t going to be entertaining. Holland started with a string of fouls from the second minute and it was Spain with the first chance: after 5 minutes, Xavi’s free kick was met by the head of Puyol but the shot was well saved.

Holland’s resident toe cutter, Mark Van Bommel, was in to the book first as his team in oranje decided to kick anything that moved and tried to lock down the Spanish and stop them playing their natural game. The Spanish started to get frustrated by the Dutch tactics, with Ramos lashing out as the Dutch stars such as Sneijder and Robin Van Persie were reduced to mere visitors. On half an hour Webb demonstrated he had completely lost control of the game when Nigel de Jong kicked a Spanish player with full force in the chest and was only given a yellow. A straight red any time of the day but Webb froze in the headlights. This cup final was turning in to a dour and cynical mush rather than the spectacle is promised to be. 0-0 at half time.

The Dutch continued to not play total football but indulge in total thuggery in the second half with two more of their players booked in a game that had no flow. The Spanish brought on Navas for Pedro to try to break the game open, but on 60 minutes that’s what happened at the other end. Sneijder, finally finding space, sent a brilliant pass through to Robben who was through on goal with Pique slipping. The Bayern Munich star seemed to have too much time: with only the keeper to beat, he thought about it too much and his shot was saved by the legs of Casillas. A massive chance for Holland gone.

The second half dragged on boring the world over as the Dutch continued to kick anything that moved, with Webb’s booking of Heitenga setting a new world record for most bookings in a World Cup Final. With 10 minutes to go and a last minute heartbreaker becoming more likely, Ramos headed unmarked from a corner but straight at the keeper in their biggest chance of the match. Robben was put through again but stayed on his feet when nudged by Puyol when he may have been awarded a penalty if he hadn’t been honest. 0-0 it finished after 90 and for the sixth time in its history the final would go in to extra time.

Fabregas was brought on for the more defensive Alonso as Spain looked to put this game to bed but missed a golden opportunity 5 minutes in to extra time as Xavi started to dominate. Thoughts turned to how well Spain had done to cop the thuggery and still not react to it while Paul the Octopus sat in his tank in Germany waiting…watching. The tide started to turn with full effect towards Spain when Holland’s fearless captain Van Bronkhurst limped in what would be his last game of football. Half time in extra time and still 0-0.

With 10 minutes to go until penalties finally a Dutch player is sent off when Heitenga received his second yellow card. The fifth player to be sent off in the history of the final. Now Holland are holding steady at the back as Spain looped and swarmed over their defence like bi-planes on a skyscraper straddling King Kong.

Then, with 4 minutes to go and penalties looking likely, the deadlock is finally broken when Torres’ cross was half cleared to Fabregas who calmly passed it to the brilliant Iniesta who controlled the ball then volleyed it home from close range. Iniesta has his shirt off, every single Spanish official on the bench is running towards him and those supporting the oranje have their collective hearts sink. 1-0 Spain. Casillas, the Real Madrid keeper and captain of Spain who has been part of many of the ridiculously poor campaigns his country has undertaken breaks down and cries. They’re almost there.

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Holland are finished. With 10 men they tried to muster one last foray, but they have failed to muster any attacking clout during the game and they didn’t have an instant answer now. Even with 2 minutes found from somewhere to add on to the four Webb finally ended his personal nightmare, and worst game on the world stage, by blowing full time and Spain are deserved champions for the first time.

There are more tears on both sides as Spain have their new shirts with the star indicating a World Cup above the team badge. Van Bommel is in the face of Webb in a last bit of unnecessary bullying that the Dutch decided to indulge in for their biggest match in 32 years. How those Dutch fans – who had driven all the way down from Holland in a convoy through deepest darkest Africa to get to the tournament – would have felt is anyone’s guess. They tried doing a Geelong circa 1989 VFL Grand Final and failed.

Casillas, aged still only 29 and with over 100 caps, lifted the trophy for his country for the first time and Spain joined only 7 other countries in being World Champions. Welcome to the club. Probably the worst final since 1990 but a memorable moment nonetheless from a tournament that was enjoyable but not a classic.

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Glory Guerrillas Producer and Co-Host. Contributer to Football Nation Radio and Football West. Worships at the feet of the mighty Cats, Socceroos, Matildas, West Perth, Glory and Glasgow's Green and White most of the time.

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